Can you eat an apple while driving?
Most people have heard of the case a few years ago where a lady was found guilty of 'driving while eating an apple'. There is no such offence. She was found guilty of 'not being in proper control of her vehicle' (s.41D(a) Road Traffic Act 1988). She was said to be negotiating junction whilst holding the apple and in doing so was considered by the magistrates to not have been in full control of her vehicle.
It is interesting to note that the police officer who stopped her initially believed that she was holding a mobile phone to her ear. When they realised it was an apple, a prosecution for using a mobile phone while driving was not possible, and so a different route to prosecution was used.
A revival of the offence of 'not being in proper control of a vehicle'?
To be clear, there is no such offence as driving while eating an apple (or any other type of food). The prosecution will be required to prove that the driver's actions meant they were not in proper control of their vehicle. This will depend on factors such as speed, changes of direction, level of traffic etc. and maybe evidenced by the general nature of the driving. The requirement to prove a lack of control for this offence is different from the offence of driving while using a mobile phone or handheld device. In mobile phone cases, the lack of control need not be proven which means that the offence can be committed even if you are sat in stationary traffic.
From experience, the offence of not being in proper control of the vehicle has rarely been used by the police in recent years. However, in the light of the recent Court of Appeal decision in DPP v Baretto on the use of mobile phones, it will likely become a more common occurrence.
Now that the Court of Appeal has strictly interpreted the law on using a mobile phone so that it does not include acts such as selecting music and taking videos, it is inevitable that the police will look to new ways of prosecuting drivers whom they consider pose a risk to other road users. Cue the offence of not being in proper control.
The offence of not being in proper control of the vehicle carries 3 penalty points and a maximum fine of £1000. In theory, a discretionary disqualification is available instead of points, but would usually only be appropriate for repeat offenders.
Other possible offences
As well as the offence of not being in proper control of a vehicle, the police may consider prosecutions for careless, inconsiderate or even dangerous driving depending on the circumstances. They will, of course, require the prosecutor to prove the elements of the particular offence.
Unlike 'not being in proper control' the penalties for these offences are not fixed at 3 points and a max £1000 fine. Dangerous driving is the most serious of these offences, as it carries up to 2 years' imprisonment and a mandatory 12-month ban with extended re-test. It may well be considered if damage or minor injury is caused by driving.
There are other more serious offences which may be appropriate where serious injury or death occurs, but they are not covered by this article.
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